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Eyes on the Street: Monumental Bike Parking on Lawrence Avenue

Photo: John Greenfield

I spent about five years in the early 2000s coordinating bicycle rack installations for the Chicago Department of Transportation. One of the main takeaways from that very enjoyable job was that, when it comes to bike parking, form really does follow function. Although designers are constantly trying to reinvent the wheel by building a better bike rack, it's hard to beat the no-frills "inverted U" style CDOT has been putting in since the early Nineties.

Therefore, I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at the rather grandiose bike parking structure that was recently installed as part of the successful Lawrence Avenue road diet and streetscaping project. That "four-to-three conversion" transformed the segment of Lawrence between Ashland Avenue and Western Avenue from a desolate speedway into a people-friendly street with wider sidewalks, space for cafe seating, and bike lanes.

Photo: John Greenfield

Even before that stretch became more bikeable, there was a huge demand for bike parking at the Ravenswood Metra station at Lawrence and Ravenswood Avenue, which has recently grown with the addition of a new supermarket and housing complex. There are "wave" racks with space for dozens of cycles under the Metra tracks, but that still isn't enough capacity -- bikes often overflow onto railings.

Photo: John Greenfield

Therefore, it was a no-brainer that the streetscape project should include additional bike parking, but the design that was chosen is a bit of a head-scratcher. The streetscape included four colorful, roughly 30-foot-high "neighborhood identifier poles." One of these, at the southeast corner of Lawrence/Ravenswood, was retrofitted with six curved bike parking fixtures made by Bike Arc, a company based in Palo Alto, California.

Photo: John Greenfield

Placing your bike in the curving metal wheel trough is a little tricky, and might be a heavy lift for smaller individuals. I also guessed that it would be impossible to secure a wheel and the frame of my bike to the fixture's locking loop using a Kryptonite Mini U-Lock, one of the most popular types among urban cyclists. However, I found I was able to do this with a bit of finagling, although my hand got a little greasy as I maneuvered the lock past the chain, through the rear triangle.

Photo: John Greenfield

The relative merits of the Bike Arc fixtures aside, one thing's for sure. The placement of this particular installation is pretty laughable. One of the fixtures is jammed right up against a curb. While it's barely possible to load a bike into that trough, as you can see in the above photo, doing so requires a little communing with nature. I'd like to think, due to the location of utility lines and whatnot, there was no other choice for the location of the identifier pole. Otherwise, this placement was a honey of a boo-boo.

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